February 2013 Newsletter

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  • February 28, 2013
Protect Patients Now

Volume 8, Issue 2 February 2013 Newsletter


Special points of interest:

Medical Lawsuit Abuse Makes Health Care Costs Tough to Swallow
To the Editor: Liability Reforms Have Decreased Costs, Increased Access to Care
HCLA Members to Congressional Leaders: Liability Reforms Reduce Deficit
Ask the Experts

Medical Lawsuit Abuse Makes Health Care Costs Tough to Swallow

This month, a Time magazine exposé made it clear that skyrocketing health care costs are a bitter pill, harming patients and making it more difficult for physicians to practice medicine. Of the $2.8 trillion Americans will spend on health care services this year, medical lawsuit abuse and the practice of defensive medicine remain leading drivers of costs that are quickly spiraling out of control.

The hospital administrators quoted in the piece are particularly candid about how heavily the threat of a lawsuit weighs on a physician’s decision to order tests or treatment.

“We use the CT scan because it’s a great defense,” says the CEO of a Connecticut hospital. “For example, if anyone has fallen or done anything around their head — hell, if they even say the word head — we do it to be safe. We can’t be sued for doing too much.”

“[The administrator’s] rationale speaks to the real cost issue associated with medical-malpractice litigation. It’s not as much about the verdicts or settlements (or considerable malpractice-insurance premiums) that hospitals and doctors pay as it is about what they do to avoid being sued,” the article continues.

“Eliminating the rationale or excuse for all the extra doctor exams, lab tests and use of CT scans and MRIs could cut tens of billions of dollars a year while drastically cutting what hospitals and doctors spend on malpractice insurance and pass along to patients,” the author concluded.

While our broken medical liability system is by no means the only reason patients are increasingly burdened with higher health care premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, it must be reformed as part of an effort to reduce costs and guarantee access to care. To read the full Time magazine piece on America’s health care cost crisis, click here.

To the Editor: Liability Reforms Have Decreased Costs, Increased Access to Car

Leading health care policy researchers took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, where they shared evidence that the practice of defensive medicine is costing our health care system far more than we once believed.

The HCLA is in agreement that defensive medicine is both more widespread and more expensive than initial studies have shown, but responded with a letter to the editor, challenging the authors’ statement that reasonable limits on non-economic damages have not led to any positive changes in states where they were enacted and therefore should be pushed aside in favor of less comprehensive, and unproven, reforms.

The letter states that, “…the authors ignore that comprehensive medical liability reforms have decreased the frequency of claims and dramatically increased access to care in some states.”

“Take Mississippi, where liability insurance costs have dropped nearly 50 percent and the number of lawsuits have fallen more than 70 percent since reforms were enacted. Or Texas, where 2012 saw a 45 percent increase in the annual number of newly licensed physicians over pre-reform numbers,” it continues.

But because a patchwork of laws that vary state to state continue to be under attack by personal injury lawyers and their political allies, the letter emphasizes that it will take comprehensive reforms at the federal level to protect patients and physicians.

In conclusion, “The HCLA believes demonstration projects suggested by the authors should continue to be studied for their effectiveness. In the meantime, the HCLA will push for proven, comprehensive federal reforms that will improve access, reduce costs, and protect patients – not personal injury lawyers.” To read the HCLA’s letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal, click here.

HCLA Members to Congressional Leaders: Liability Reforms Reduce Deficit

In anticipation of upcoming deficit reduction and budget talks, members of the HCLA sent a letter to Congressional leaders reinforcing just how much of an impact comprehensive medical liability reform could have in reducing our national debt.

“In its March 2011 budget options document (“Reducing the Deficit: Spending and Revenue Options”), CBO scored a package of comprehensive medical liability reforms as providing $62.4 billion in savings over 10 years (see attached excerpt of the CBO report) – savings which will help Congress and the President achieve shared deficit reduction goals,” the HCLA members wrote to Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We commend you for your dedication to helping the nation resolve its fiscal crisis. As you move forward with this critical task, we stand ready to provide you any information you need on the budgetary benefits of medical liability reform,” the signatories concluded.

“Protect Patients Now and the HCLA will continue to work with our allies on both sides of the political aisle to come to a resolution on spending reductions that include cost saving medical liability reforms. To read the coalition letter to Speaker Boehner, click here.

Ask the Experts

When the Wall Street Journal asked the experts how to fix our health care system, two responses focused on reforming a broken liability system that works for neither patients nor physicians.
– Dr. Harlan Krumholz, cardiologist and the Harold H. Hines, Jr. professor of medicine and epidemiology and public health at Yale University School of Medicine

“Reduce the pressures on doctors to practice defensive medicine. The U.S. remains an outlier country in this regard.”
– Fred Hassan, Chairman; Bausch & Lomb

It has become clear throughout the health care industry that sound medical practices, not the threat of a lawsuit, should be guiding physicians in the care of their patients. Click here to read more expert analyses on how reform of our broken medical system will lower costs and protect patients now.